How To Tell If Dishes Have Lead

Emily Wilson

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How To Tell If Dishes Have Lead

Pretty decorations and bright colors do not equal “safe” when it comes to dishes. They can sometimes hide the dangerous ingredient lead. You don’t want to jeopardize your health or that of your family, do you?

Are you planning to acquire new dishware, or are you unsure whether the ones you have contained lead? Take a breather and read this article for a few minutes.

We’ll walk you through what lead is, why it’s in tableware, and how it can impact your body. You’ll also learn which dish types are most likely to include lead, as well as essential safety precautions to avoid lead poisoning.

How To Tell If Dishes Have Lead

What Is Lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring element that may be found in trace levels in the planet’s crust. It is a soft, silvery-white, or grayish heavy metal.

Alchemists believe that it is one of the oldest metals on Earth, along with silver, gold, copper, iron, mercury, and tin.

Through lead processing, this metal undergoes preparation for product manufacturing. Roasting the ore and subsequently smelting it in a blast furnace or straight smelting without roasting are two methods for extracting lead.

Why Do Dishes Contain Lead?

Lead is known for its ductility, density, and malleability. It is durable and resistant to corrosion. Because of this, Babylonians from years back used this metal as a recording plate for all their inscriptions.

Moreover, this metal became the primary component of Roman tablets, water pipes, cooking utensils, and coins. 

Clay is the starting component of ceramics. This metal has been long utilized in kitchenware for glazing and as a decorative element.

Because of its porousness, lead serves as a glaze to seal the surface, making it easier to clean and hold food or drink. The glaze keeps moisture from seeping into the dish.

Lead leaves a smooth, glass-like finish on the surfaces of the utensils. Thus, it allows vivid colors and various patterns and designs to pop and shine through.

The element usually produces vibrant colors such as red, orange, and yellow.

What Are The Effects of Lead Exposure to the Body?

Despite its contribution to the kitchenware industry, records prove that lead is one of the principal harmful elements to humans and animals.

According to FDA consumer safety officer Mike Cashtock, manufacturers of cooking wares and kitchen utensils should correctly produce lead by bonding it properly in the glaze. 

One kitchen device that can trigger lead is a dishwasher. However, the problem is cooking pottery at low or unregulated temperatures.

It can damage the glaze, resulting in a leaching process, making the lead stick with food. Here are the effects of lead exposure on the body:

On children


When exposed to lead through small intakes, children six years old and below may experience the following effects:

  • stunted growth
  • behavioral and cognitive problems
  • lower IQ, hyperactivity, anemia
  • hearing complications.

They absorb lead four to five times more than adults. Ingestion of lead can result in convulsions, coma, and even death in rare situations.

On pregnant women and their babies

Lead may accumulate inside the body over time, specifically within the bones.

When women undergo pregnancy, there is a considerable possibility of passing lead-containing calcium from their bodies to the unborn babies. In other instances, infants can also acquire a lead from their mother through breastfeeding.

Here are the consequences of these scenarios happen:

  • It can affect the baby’s kidney, brain, and nervous system development
  • There is the likelihood of behavioral issues
  • Miscarriage can be a possibility
  • Premature or runt infant may be born

On adults

Adults are not an exception to adverse effects brought by lead exposure.

Here are some adverse instances that may occur:

  • Kidney malfunction
  • Problems with reproduction in both men and women
  • Cardiovascular complications leading to elevated blood pressure and hypertension
  • Headaches
  • Tummy, joint, and muscle aches
  • Cognitive issues result in a lack of focus and memory loss
  • Mood swings

5 Ways To Tell If Dishes Have Lead

Now that you already know what lead can do to the body, let us head on to the main focus of this article — to assist you in recognizing lead content on your dishwares.

After all, eating utensils such as plates, bowls, and glass dishes are primary sources of lead. 

Hence, we must start eliminating the use of dishware that contains lead for our family’s safety.

Here are the indications that your dishware has led:

#1 Corroded glaze or dusty chalk gray residue

After washing a piece of tableware, try to touch its surface. If you feel some chalky grey residue, it can indicate the presence of lead.

Remember that lead is a soft, silver, or gray-colored metal. Hence, once and for all, stop using that particular dishware.

#2 Bright-colored dishes

Lead Oxide (PbO) is generally red before heating. Heating the said compound can turn it yellow.

Avoid using dishware with vivid colors on the surface touching a liquid or food. This also includes the rim of the bowl or cup where you sip or drink.

#3 Decorations on top of the glaze

Usually, decorative patterns should be underneath the glaze. However, one indication of higher lead content is when dishware patterns are elevated and embossed from the surface. 

They tend to wear more quickly because it has less protection from wear and tear. Brush these embellishments with your finger.

One typical example of this is the highly decorated traditional dishes from several Asian communities. Discard these dishwares if you can feel them protruding above the glaze.

#4 Antique dishes

Never buy your dishware from antique stores or flea markets and garage sales. Note that manufacturers produced these dishes decades ago.

Back then, there were no lead regulations passed regarding tablewares. Thus, there is an excellent possibility that these antique ones contain lead.

#5 Traditional glazed terra cotta

There is some dishware from Latin American countries that contains lead. One of the best examples is the Mexican bean pots. In 2020, the FDA reported from local health authorities about Mexican pottery.

Manufacturers labeled these specific items as ” lead-free ” when it includes levels of extractable lead comparable to those found in lead-glazed pottery.

Take note to spot them since these pots commonly have transparent glazes. If you have one at home or plan to buy one, do not even attempt to use it for cooking, food serving, and storing. 

What Is The Difference Between “Lead-Safe” and “Lead-Free”?

Lead-free dishes do not contain any lead at all. However, lead-safe ones may still have some amount of lead.

These types of dishes passed the California Proposition 65 standards, indicating that the quantity of lead cannot harm a person when absorbed by food.

List of High-Risk Dishwares

Despite the heightened regulations on lead-containing dishwares, some may still contain lead.

Here are the top dishware types you should check rigorously before buying:

  • Ceramic Stoneware or Earthware
  • Porcelain or china made before the year 1970
  • Vintage Dishes
  • Bone china
  • Glass made of leaded crystal or with paint, glaze, and decorations around the rim
  • Manufactured or purchased outside the U.S
  • Hand-crafted
  • Manufactured decades ago
  • Manufacturers are not available for contact
  • Bought from small retail outlets such as thrift or flea markets
  • Old Fiestaware dish brand
  • Princess House Dishes
  • Heath Ceramics

List of Safe Dishwares Brands

  • Corelle Livingware (plain white)
  • Lenox (newly manufactured models)
  • Sur La Table (plain white)
  • Crate and Barrel (plain white)
  • Libbey 
  • Anchor Hocking

Safety Precautions to Reduce and Avoid Exposure to Lead

Dishes should pass the Proposition 65 Standards for Lead

Before purchasing tableware, please inquire whether it complies with Proposition 65 requirements.

However, there are times when the store is entirely unaware of the situation. Instead, ask for the manufacturer’s phone number.

You can also consult the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) pamphlet, which offers a list of Proposition 65-compliant dish patterns from various manufacturers. This booklet also includes the manufacturer’s phone numbers.

Use a home lead testing kit

Using a home test kit is one way to check whether your tableware contains lead or not. Plus, they are inexpensive. These kits also indicate if it is a leachable lead. 

Leachable or extractable lead is the amount of lead in the solution applied to food containers, cooking, eating, or drinking utensils, toys, furniture, or tableware.

To be considered extractable or leachable, the quantity must not exceed 0.7 micrograms per milliliter.

You can detect leachable leads through the quick color test system of these home kits. However, in some cases, lead test kits only come in handy in monitoring the excessive amount of lead.

3M LeadCheck Swabs is an excellent choice because it works fast. It can detect lead within 30 seconds.

If you have lots of dishes and surfaces to test, you can get the 60-piece Lead Paint Test Kit. It’s cheaper and simple to use.

Check the everyday dishes you are using

Lead can leak into your food when using a dishwasher with lead-based tableware. This is due to the fact that dishwashers can break the glazed surface, allowing the lead to escape.

There’s also a higher likelihood that leads from some plates and cutlery will contaminate other dishes in the dishwasher. You may use dishes that have lead-free glazes.

Store food properly

Keep in mind that the leaching process might occur even if tableware does not wear and tear the glazing or surface. When food undergoes long-term exposure to lead-tainted containers, more lead sticks into the food.


Avoid lead intake; to ensure your safety, always use lead-free storage containers when storing foods.

Do not put highly acidic food or liquid

If you have a suspicion that your dishware contains lead, don’t use it with anything acidic.

Sodas, cola drinks, citrus fruits, juices, coffee, tea, and alcoholic beverages are all acidic food and drinks that can cause lead bleeding.

Use microwave-safe tableware only

One of the reasons for initiating the lead-leaching process is cooking or microwaving food on lead-containing plates or bowls.

Using outdated dishes to heat food is not a good idea. Also, hot food can also trigger leaching. The variable that triggers significant quantities to bleed out is the high temperatures.

Find a laboratory to conduct the testing

A laboratory can do bulls-eye lead testing in two methods.

The first method is to use an instrument called an XRF machine. It’s a technology that uses an x-ray gun to detect lead by counting electron reactions in the item. However, like home test kits, it is unable to determine the amount of lead leaches present.

Leach testing is the second method. In the dish, the laboratory pours an acidic solution. This procedure may destroy your material. It does, however, determine how much lead leaches from the surface.

Discard old dishes

Sometimes the more we want to save our money, the more it causes harm to our health. Invest in high-quality and brand-new dishes.

Remember that the older the tablewares get, the more it leaks lead, contaminating your drinks and food. Do not wait for you and your family to suffer from lead exposure’s previously mentioned adverse effects.

Key Takeaways

Now that you know what lead is and how to avoid this element, here are the essential points you should remember from this article:

  • Lead is a poisonous chemical that can harm humans regardless of age however is more particularly hazardous to children.
  • Lead accumulates in your body, so even tiny doses can have a significant impact. Over time, it might become a health issue. 
  • Beware of bright-colored embellishments, especially the red and yellow ones on dish surfaces.
  • Home testing kits are a convenient and inexpensive way to test lead presence from your tableware.
  • Discard dishes manufactured before the 1970s
  • Observe the safety precautions to avoid lead exposure and lead leaching

Choose to serve colorful food rather than the fancy plates on the table. Remember that the nicer your dishes are, the more likely they are to contain lead.

When buying ceramics for food and drink, avoid those with labels that declare “not for food use” or “for decorative use only,” as these items may contain elements that leak lead.

Examine the FDA’s Red List of ceramics. It contains an itemization of discovered dishes with dangerous lead levels first.

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